It's the journey not the destination: Maya New Year's pilgrimage and self-sacrifice as regenerative power

Academic Article


  • This article examines Maya New Year's rites involving pilgrimage and bloodletting. We suggest that ceremonies today that center around the initiation of young men and involve self-sacrifice and long-distance pilgrimage to the mountains and coast may have pre-Hispanic roots. New Year's ceremonies express a core ontological principle of dualistic transformation involving physical change ( jal) from youth to adulthood and transference or replacement ( k’ex) of power in official leadership roles. This distinct way of knowing the world emphasizes one’s reciprocal relationship with it. We conclude that ancient Maya pilgrimage was not about acquiring a particular thing or venerating a specific place or destination. It was about the journey or what Timothy Ingold calls “ambulatory knowing.” The Maya gained cosmological knowledge, linking the movement of their body to the annual path of the sun and their sexuality and human regenerative power to earthly renewal, which required blood to be successful.
  • Authors

  • Harrison-Buck, Eleanor
  • Runggaldier, Astrid
  • Gantos, Alex
  • Status

    Publication Date

  • October 2018
  • Has Subject Area

    Published In


  • Maya
  • New Year
  • circular and colonnaded architecture
  • ethnoarchaeology
  • genital bloodletting
  • male initiation
  • marriage and sexual relations
  • pilgrimage
  • turtles
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Start Page

  • 325
  • End Page

  • 347
  • Volume

  • 18
  • Issue

  • 3